Scrambling skills: route finding

Posted by Hanna Lindon on 09/06/2015
Don't forget to look where you're going! Photo by Duncan Andison/ Shutterstock.

In the second part of our scrambling skills series, we take a look at the importance of savvy route finding.

Nothing gives newbie scramblers the heebie-jeebies like the prospect of straying off route. Nobody wants to start off on a breezy grade 1 and end up tackling a full-blown climb - so how can you make sure that you stay on track?

Part of the problem is that all guidebook writers have different writing styles and ways of describing features. Getting accustomed to that on easier routes where there’s little chance of taking the wrong line is the first step towards becoming a route-finding pro. However, try not to blindly follow the instructions in the guidebook without assessing the route as you go.

“Route finding is part of the challenge of scrambling, but there isn’t necessarily a right way or a wrong way - it’s got to be the way that’s right for what you want to get out of your day,” says Association of Mountaineering Instructors (AMI) Rob Johnson.  

A touch of polish

If in doubt, think before you climb. A popular route will probably feature plenty of polished rock, so if you suddenly find yourself clambering through the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, then you’re likely to be off route.

“You can generally see polish on the ground, the makings of a footpath, crampon scratches,” explains Rob. “That will generally mean that either you’ll get around the corner and there will be 3,000 people sat there who have all got lost, or that’s the way everybody went and found their way through.”

Walk the line

Likewise, most scrambles follow lines of weakness, so put yourself in the mind of the first ascentionist, and try to spy out the easiest line.

“Look out for the tell-tale signs above,” adds Rob, “But the simplest way to spy out a route is just to have a look around the corner. Does that look like the sort of ground you want to be on in a grade 1 scramble? Which is the easiest line?”

More difficult scrambles often involve one or two very exposed and improbable looking sections - but these are usually very well described in the guidebook to ensure people don’t go off route.

People power

An indication - but not a cast-iron surety - of the route can be gleaned from watching other people.

“Ask yourself where other people are going,” says Rob, “but just be aware that they might well be out for a rock climbing day. You don’t want to follow others blindly, but it can be an indication as to where other routes are on the mountain.”

If you’re alone on the hill then don’t panic. “Have a nose about,” Rob adds. “Try not to get sucked into this way of thinking ‘am I going the right way, am I going the wrong way?’ Have that sense of adventure, have an explore, and find a way that’s right for you.”

WATCH How to route find when scrambling, on BMC TV


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